Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Swan Maiden by Heather Tomlinson

Title: The Swan Maiden
Author: Heather Tomlinson
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Publication Date: August 2007
Hardcover: 304 Pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand alone

Summary: (from Goodreads)
In the quiet hour before dawn, anything can happen. A third daughter can dream of being a creature of flight and magic, of wearing a swan-skin like her sisters. But Doucette must run the castle household while her older sisters learn to weave spells. Her dream of flying is exactly that—until the day she discovers her own hidden birthright.

Sudden, soaring freedom—it is a wish come true. Yet it comes with a price. As Doucette struggles to find her own way in the world, she risks losing the one she loves most of all.

I haven't been able to read...well at all for about a month now. While that may not seem like a terribly long time to some people, for me it's almost sacrilegious. I prefer to always be reading and I'm looking forward to getting my book fix during the summer. Since today is my last day of school though (woohoo!), I went to the library this weekend to stock up in preparation of the book binge I'll inevitably have. (Don't worry, I always read responsibly. No book driving for this girl!). When I saw a review for The Swan Maiden over at the Book Smugglers, I know it'd be the perfect book to break my dry spell.

As the summary says, The Swan Maiden is about a girl named Doucette. The youngest of three and the daughter of a Comte, Doucette dreams of being a Swan Maiden and weaving spells like her sisters. Unfortunately for her, Doucette is instead doomed to be a Chastelaine. Stuck cleaning and running the household while her sisters run wild with magic, Doucette envies their beauty and confidence. But most of all she envies their swan cloaks, because it's with these coats that her sisters are able to turn into swans and fly. On top of having no magic and being plain looking, Doucette's sisters also enjoy using their magic to humiliate Doucette with cruel pranks.

As with all fairy tales or fairy tale retellings, The Swan Maiden starts by showing the reader just how unfair things are for Doucette. Not only is Doucette not as attractive as her sisters, but she also isn't a sorceress. To make matter worse, her sisters play a mean trick on Doucette and embarrass her in front of Jaume, her crush. Jaume also happens to be a sheppard, which follows the standard noble girl and pauper boy meme fairy tales seem to love (or vice versa). Of course, their circumstance means they're doomed to never be together and Doucette will likely be married to a man she doesn't love for political reasons. But then something unexpected happens. While helping her mother prepare for an upcoming party, Doucette stumbles across a grey cloak of feathers. Her cloak of feathers. It turns out Doucette is a Swan Maiden and her parents have kept her from her magical birthright on purpose. It's at this point Doucette seems to have the power to grasp everything she's ever wanted. The question then becomes, "is it worth the cost?"

Even though this book is a fairy tale retelling, it's also a coming of age story. The reader gets to follow Doucette as she struggles to accept the simple life she doesn't feel happy in, embraces her magical abilities, and then has to decide whether to choose love or freedom. While the story may be pretty expected, The Swan Maiden still has enough charm to make it interesting. Love stories tend to be pretty unimaginative in fairy tales, but the struggle between Doucette and Jaume was actually pretty satisfying. My biggest complaint about the book was how rushed the latter part of the book felt. It lacked the depth the first half had and instead felt a bit hallow. The thing I love about fairy tale retellings though is their familiarity. The Swan Maiden feels familiar while also being wholly its own.

Notable Quotes/ Parts: 
Her fingers plunged into the feathers. Soft and warm, the swan-skin offered a silent promise.


Did she dare?

Doucette crossed to the window, pushed aside the embroidered curtains, and stared out of the luxurious room that suddenly seemed a prison.

Over the years, Doucette had heard her father instruct her sisters’ escort. Like them, she could follow the sheep flocks to a lake in the mountains, then seek the lake’s eastern shore. The river Immeluse would lead her the rest of the way to her aunt’s castle, to a season of studying magic with Azelais and Cecilia. If she dared.

The wind kissed her cheek.

Doucette sat and took off her shoes. Her hose. Her gown, and the soft chemise underneath. Folding each item, she set it on the bed. The breeze gusted, stirring dried rose petals in a wooden bowl and raising tiny bumps along Doucette’s skin.

She took a deep breath and drew on the coat of feathers. Magic tingled the length of her body and down her spine. Her neck stretched, her legs shrank. Her skin exploded in feathers. The world spun around her as her vision took on a crystalline sharpness. The floor rose to meet her, then stopped with a jolt.

She was a swan.

If you like fairly tale retellings then I'd definitely recommend picking this one up. While I was a bit annoyed by some aspects of the book, it was still a light and entertaining read. It actually reminded me a lot of Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier.

Rating: 6. Good, but might not be for everyone

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